Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd-gen) review: This smart display just got smarter

A better camera, smarter features, and video calling make this a good upgrade

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd-gen)
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With the Echo Show 10 being more novelty than necessity (that rotating screen doesn't justify that $250 price tag), the new $130 Echo Show 8 slides into the top spot as the best Alexa smart display.

Released this month, the second generation model of Amazon's mid-sized smart speaker with a display takes some of the best bits from the Show 10 (13-megapixel camera, digital zoom, security camera features), and packs them into a more sensible size. The Echo Show 8 comes in a form-factor that can fit in anywhere, be it a bedside table or kitchen counter.

Guide: The best Alexa smart speakers
Need to know: Top smart speakers with screens

Offering the most bang (and screen size) for your buck, the Show 8 (available in Charcoal and Glacier White) retains an almost identical look to its predecessor (same display, same speakers), but with a bit more under the hood including a new octo-core processor and a souped-up camera.

You can still stream shows, listen to music, control your smart home, coral your family with announcements, and drop in on your friends and relatives, but now you can Zoom with a 13-megapixel camera.

Plus, the camera ups the smart home ante with a video-based motion detection feature that can trigger routines - such as turning on lights or sending an intruder alert.

The Show 8 is still the middle child, coming in under the Echo Show 10 in the lineup but over and above the diminutive Echo Show 5, which has also received a few upgrades for its second-generation (review coming soon).

We've been living with the new Echo Show 8 for a few weeks now, read on for our full review.

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) review: Alexa just got more useful

Show 8 (2nd-gen) on the left, Show 8 (1st-gen) on the right.

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd-gen): Design, display, and setup

As we've mentioned, the Echo Show 8 looks a lot like the first generation 8-inch display from Amazon.

It has the same slightly lackluster, non-standard 1280 x 800 resolution, 8-inch screen, and physical camera shutter that also cuts off the microphone.

It does throw in a new adaptive color sensor in addition to the adaptive brightness function, which helps adjust the color and light balance of the screen to better fit in with its surroundings.

Our verdict: Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd-gen) review

This change sadly isn't enough to compete with the gentle screen stylings of the Nest Hub displays, but it is a step up from previous Echo Show screens, which were too bright to be allowed in our bedroom, even with Night Mode enabled.

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) review: Alexa just got more useful

When not in use you can fully customize the Show's display to roll through the weather, calendar events, news, headlines, recipes, photos, artwork, and so on.

We find that can all get a bit distracting, however, and we prefer to turn off most of these features and just have a nice piece of art with the date and time on it. This is easy to do right on the device in Settings.

The biggest change is the new 13-megapixel camera, a giant step up from the measly 1 megapixel in the last version.

As well as making you look a darn sight better on video calls, the new, wider-angle camera can digitally zoom and track to keep you in the frame.

So, if you're prepping dinner or multitasking while on a call you can stay in the line of sight of the person on the other end.

The tracking worked pretty well, it's a small field of view so you can't walk to one end of the kitchen counter and back again, but by tracking small movements in a set space the camera movement definitely helps keep the conversation flowing.

The camera can also focus on more than one person, so if you're sitting side by side with someone it will zoom in and out depending on who is talking, or you can designate a primary person.

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) review: Alexa just got more useful

The Show 8 keeps all the same physical controls, including the privacy shutter for covering up that camera. When engaged it's visible from across the room as a white square.

This model dispenses of the black power cord and square brick in favor of a white cord with a slimmer, rectangular plug that fits into busy outlets better. But that white cable rather sticks out on the charcoal model.

Setting up the Show is really easy - and you don't need to use a smartphone, it can all be done directly on the touchscreen.

Once you plug it in and sign in to your Amazon account you get the option to enable some of the new features including Echo Show Monitoring (a smart camera - more on this in a bit), and the option to turn on Sidewalk.

If you're still confused by what exactly Sidewalk is and why you may or may not want to turn it on, check out our Sidewalk explainer.

You can also choose at this point to set up the Show for use by a child, and add an Amazon Kids profile.

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) review: Alexa just got more useful

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd-gen): Video and sound quality

As we've mentioned there's no change in the quality of the screen so watching Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, or Netflix (still no HBO) is no different than before - and we would never choose this as a primary way of consuming video content.

But it's a decent option in a pinch, such as while you're peeling potatoes in the kitchen or folding laundry on the bed.

Alas, there is still no native YouTube app and definitely no YouTube TV, but Amazon has included a shortcut to the web version of YouTube in its new Video Home Screen, making accessing it a little easier, if still not good.

This video screen also gives you more of a browsing opportunity than was previously available, so you don't always have to use your voice to call up a show, you can just swipe from the right side and tap Video for access to all available services, as well as a list of popular shows.

The dual stereo speakers also pack some punch - although as they are projecting out of the rear of the device it's not the kind of immersive sound you get from the spherical Echo speakers, but it's decent.

You can play music from Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify, but if you opt for Amazon you get a visual of the lyrics scrolling on the screen - perfect for an impromptu karaoke party.

The far-field microphones that listen for the wake word are also situated at the rear of the Show, which we found occasionally makes Alexa a bit deaf to our calls. This is a problem we had on the previous model as well.

While sometimes it hears us without a problem, other times we have to face the screen square on and repeat ourselves clearly.

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) review: Alexa just got more useful

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd-gen): Features and smart home

The Echo Show has all the Alexa goodies you've come to know and love – read our full Amazon Alexa guide if you need a refresher on these.

Of course, the voice assistant Alexa underpins everything about the Echo speaker, which is a voice-first device despite the presence of a screen.

You can call up video feeds from connected cameras with a voice command, answer your video doorbell, and control lights and other smart home devices.

But the entire Show line also acts as a touch-screen control for your smart home. Swipe in from the right and access a card-based navigation screen that gets you quick access to control devices in groups or individually when you don't want to use voice.

You can go directly to categories - cameras, lights, plugs, thermostats - and call up device-specific controls. You can also view and manage your Alexa Routines - including turning them on or off.

We're pleased to report that touch control is much snappier in the Echo Show 8 (2nd gen) than on previous models, making it far more usable.

However, we find that the screen still times out a bit too quickly, and after you view a camera feed or other smart home device's control screen the default goes back to the Home Screen not back to the smart home controls. Resulting in more swiping if you want to go back and control something else.

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) review: Alexa just got more useful

What's entirely new with this iteration are two features that take advantage of the improved camera: Occupancy Routines and Echo Show Monitoring.

Occupancy Routines use computer vision to detect when a person is in the camera's field of view, or when the camera sees no one, and run the correct Routine.

We tested this out by setting an Echo Show on a bedside table and having it turn on lights when it detects a person during 7am and 9pm and turn them off when it no longer detects a person.

While this worked, we found you had to be right in front of the camera to trigger it, just walking in to the room didn't activate the Routine.

We could see this being more useful if you have a Show set up by the front door to trigger lights and music as you walk by in, or in the kitchen to start a "Cooking Routine" that plays your favorite playlist or picks up where you left off in your audiobook.

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) review: Alexa just got more useful

The built-in camera can be enabled as a security camera for Home Monitoring.

This lets you view the feed from your Show on another Echo Show or through the Alexa app. You can choose to set this up when you first power it on or activate it later in settings.

An alert pops up on the Show you are viewing through - so anyone in the room will know they're on camera.

It's a decent feature but not a substitute for a security camera, as it doesn't record the view and, by nature of its slightly tilted angle, the camera is looking at the ceiling in most any room.

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd-gen) review: This smart display just got smarter

Zoom is also now fully-baked into the Echo Show and - along with Skype and Amazon Chime - can be used for video calls.

The Zoom interface is easy to use and you can start a meeting or join one from the Show. You can also view the Zoom chat (although we couldn't type into the chat box).

The wide-angle lens does lend a bit of a fish-eye quality to the video and the audio quality was a bit tinny (according to the person on the other end of my test call), but I "looked great" (said my mom).

If you tap the physical mute button on the Show while on a Zoom call it mutes both your audio and video in one go, controls also show on the screen when you tap it. However, you can't have a Zoom call that uses the word "Alexa" as the Show gets all sorts of confused.

If you use Alexa Calling you can now create groups and chat with multiple people (up to seven) at once. Everyone in the group will need to have either an Echo speaker or the Alexa app on their phone to join.

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen)
If you're looking for an Alexa-enabled smart display, the Echo Show 8 is the best choice for a good price. A nice sized screen and excellent camera make it a very handy device for Zoom calls when your smartphone is too small but you don't want to be stuck in front of a computer. As an Alexa device it offers up plenty of visual context for your voice commands, good speakers for playing music and watching shows. and decent controls for your smart home for those occasions when shouting at an AI is not optimal. We were also impressed by the new functionality - the Show can now be a smart home monitor and a motion sensor for triggering Routines. We just wish it had a Zigbee radio inside to make it a real smart home hub.
  • Improved video calling
  • Touch screen smart home control
  • 13-megapixel camera
  • Digital pan and zoom
  • No native YouTube
  • Touch experience not great
  • No Zigbee smart home hub

TAGGED    amazon alexa    smart speakers

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